North Carolina Murder Trial May Presage Challenge to Juror “Death Qualification” Doctrine
Jury selection is underway this week in the prosecution of Brandon Xavier Hill for the alleged slaying of a pregnant woman and her boyfriend. Hill’s defense team has gathered a mass of empirical evidence seeking to show the discriminatory effects of the SCOTUS death qualification doctrine. Raleigh's News & Observer reports that defense arguments may well lead to an ultimate presentation to SCOTUS challenging the legitimacy of the death qualification doctrine. For example, the article states defense data regarding jury selection in Wake County “found the death qualification process disproportionately excluded Black potential jurors, who were removed at 2.27 times the rate of white potential jurors. It also found that women and religious people were excluded at a higher rate.”
Another Claim of Juror Misconduct in Retrial of Mich. Governor’s Attempted Kidnappers
The Jur-E- Bulletin published on August 26 reported that Adam Fox and Barry Croft were convicted of federal kidnapping and weapons charges. Six hours after the verdict rendering, U.S. District Court Judge Robert Jonker unsealed a report on his investigation of Fox’s defense attorney’s claim during jury selection that one of the jurors expressed a strong opinion to a co-worker about the defendant’s guilt. The Detroit News reported that, during the voir dire stage of the trial, Jonker had his staff privately investigate the claim and then interviewed the subject juror. The judge found the claim to be the product of double hearsay and determined the juror could decide the case on the evidence and not on preconceived views. Now USA Today posts the defendants have hired a private eye to visit the juror’s workplace to dig up more details about the juror’s communications to a co-worker. In addition to the USA Today article, the Detroit News recently published allegations about the trial judge’s oral criticisms of the defense attorneys in front of the jury.
Defendant’s Absence from Voir Dire Bench Conferences Not Prejudicial
The Georgia Supreme Court in Reed v. State rejected a claim of legal error based on a defendant’s absence from five bench conferences during two-day jury selection.
How Do We Measure the Inclusiveness, Representativeness, and Accuracy of Jury-Summoning Source Lists?
There are answers and recommendations in NCSC’s new publication Eliminating Shadows and Ghosts. With funding from the State Justice Institute, the NCSC Center for Jury Studies examined juror source lists and master jury lists in three states. The publication highlights the implications of using poor-quality juror source lists and failing to identify duplicate records during the process of merging multiple lists, which resulted in substantially over-inclusive source lists and master jury lists in all three states. Such over-inclusiveness can be as problematic as under-inclusiveness. And the presence of unrecognized duplicate records and stale records undermines the efficiency of the jury system by incurring printing, postage, and staffing costs for duplicative jury summonses or summonses that do not reach the intended recipients. Duplicates can also distort demographic representation in different ways. In some states, it may mask underrepresentation of racial and ethnic groups; in others, it may cause concerns about underrepresentation that does not really exist. Eliminating Shadows recommends state courts use only as many juror source lists as necessary to achieve inclusiveness at or near 100%. The choice of which source lists to use should be based on assessments of list quality, especially concerning record accuracy, which may differ from state to state.